NASA needs cost-effective high-data-rate communications and navigation knowledge for Distributed Spacecraft Missions (DSM) and small spacecraft. Our Relative Dynamics Inc. (RDI) solution is an optical communication terminal (SCOUT) using integrated, modular, scalable and future-extendable communications for small spacecraft in the DSM configuration. Each key cost-driven optical communication terminal sub-system has been carefully considered to enable a number of key cost-saving high-performance innovations into our proposed RDI SCOUT. Precision (microradian)-pointing actuator and motors are vital for optical communications. We propose lowering system complexity and cost with a new-class of high-performance ultra-high-vacuum compatible motors that are widely used in the manufacturing industry. The RDI SCOUT terminal uses an innovative small-aperture structure small spacecraft antenna (telescope). The SCOUT terminal opto-mechanical structure uses new materials with high strength-to-weight ratio that are robust against thermal deformation. The new material is low-cost, widely available, readily manufacturable and amenable to compression-molding mass production. Low-cost high-performance telecommunications integrated photonic transceiver are at the heart of the RDI SCOUT modem. RDI SCOUT will use an open data format for compatibility and interoperability with lunar communications and navigation architecture plans. RDI SCOUT incorporates dual (comm and nav) functionality to enable clock-recovery based sub-millimeter laser ranging and precision pointing-knowledge for optical navigation with sub-arcsecond accuracy. A lander or orbiter system could provide valuable calibrated navigation range/angle data using both active terminals and passive corner-cubes. RDI will provide system engineering for DSM operational scenarios for the SCOUT terminal including planetary lander/orbiter, planetary lander/Earth terminal, satellite-to-satellite and satellite/Earth terminal.
Our RDI proposed Small Spacecraft Optical Terminal (SCOUT) will enable a collaborative configuration at Gbps data rates of widely distributed (10s to 100s km apart) NASA small spacecraft (180 kg or less) operating far into the near-Earth region of space and beyond into deep space. SCOUT will enable NASA mission Uplinks (Earth-to-space) and Downlinks (space-to-Earth) providing an alternative for Distributed Space-craft Missions (DSM) configuration from Earth as well as return of science data to Earth and bi-directional telemetry and navigation.
SpaceX, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Airbus and OneWeb and other large companies are pursuing High Altitude Platforms and very large (thousands) LEO satellite constellations for global internet deployment. This is a key commercial market for our low-cost high-data-rate optical communication RDI SCOUT terminal.